"The country provides a critical test of how a small nation can cope with global pressures"by Kenneth O. Morgan / May 18, 2016 / Leave a comment
After May’s local elections, the media focused on the two big winners: Sadiq Khan and Nicola Sturgeon. But then a spotlight shone unexpectedly on Wales, which is usually ignored. There was party deadlock in Cardiff Bay after Ukip captured seven assembly seats in strongly pro-European territory, and Labour faced losing control of its one government. In the end, Wales—not the multiethnic metropolis nor separatist Scotland—may prove the better guide to our future Union.
For 150 years, Wales has been a stronghold of the left. At first, that meant Liberalism, in its Gladstonian and then Lloyd Georgian forms. Since the early 1920s it has been dominated by Labour. The party’s power eroded in much of north and central Wales from the 1960s on, and was undermined in the valleys by the end of coal and the weakness of steel-making—yet Labour’s electoral machine kept control in the south. In the general elections of 1997 and 2001, the Tories scored “nul points.” The nationalist challenge was far weaker than in Scotland; Plaid Cymru could not break out of its Welsh-speaking mountain fastnesses. But Welsh Labour is no bastion of the far left—there are few Corbynistas here.
Labour has governed since the first elections for the Welsh Assembly in 1999. The party has twice been in coalition, first with the Liberal Democrats and then with its main adversary, Plaid Cymru. May’s election saw a sharp fall in Labour’s share of the vote, which dropped by over 7 per cent to 34.7 per cent. Yet in reality it was another triumph for its leader, Carwyn Jones. In the Assembly, 40 of the 60 members represent constituencies and are elected under the first-past-the-post system. The 20 who represent regions are elected under a form of proportional representation; a party that has already won a lot of constituency seats in a region may not gain any regional members, even if it has a large share of the vote there.